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Why I’m teaching my daughter that perfection is something to avoid

COMFORTING DAUGHTER
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It's only in the struggle -- and all the inevitable failures -- that we grow.

Last night, my daughter had a volleyball game. She just started playing this year, as did all the other 7th graders. They’re new to the sport, so there are a lot of missed serves and dropped balls and overly-exuberant returns … and thus far, a lot of losses.

She handled the first few losses pretty well, but last night got to her. The game ended quickly after her serve went rogue into the stands, and to her, that meant the loss was her fault. I tried to explain that she was learning, that all the girls had missed serves, and that they were all still trying to figure out the game — but she was having none of it.

“No, that’s not it! I’m terrible, I can’t serve, I’ll never be able to get it! I just can’t do it, I’m horrible!” she sobbed into my shoulder.

This isn’t the first time my first-born has reacted so drastically in the face of perceived failure. And unfortunately she tends to perceive anything other than immediate perfection as total failure. I thought about her when I read this post at Her View From Homewhich is less a post than a letter telling her daughter not to be perfect.

I don’t want you to spend one ounce of your precious life running after elusive perfection. Spend it pursuing Godliness. Yes. Spend it pursuing the passions and talents that God created within you. Yes. Spend it chasing your dreams, taking chances and leaving your comfort zones. Yes. Spend it learning from your mistakes and acquiring the lessons gained. Yes. But, please, don’t ever think that perfection is the end goal.

Because that will keep you from walking out of this life on shaky legs. And there are some paths you just can’t go down unless you’re willing to do that. It will keep you from loving others because all you will ever see is their imperfection and you will hate them for it. It will keep you from loving yourself, too. It will keep you hiding your struggles and never letting anyone in to help. It will keep you from really ever knowing God. Because you’ll never let His strength be made perfect in your weakness. Be fearless. Be kind. Be respectful. Be brave. But please, don’t be perfect.

I tried to tell her some facsimile of this last night, but it was too specific. I told her that she would never learn to play the game without learning how to lose first, that she would never learn how to serve well without first learning how not to serve badly. And finally, I told her that she wasn’t allowed to quit and she’d have to figure out a way to get over feeling like a failure or the rest of the season would be a miserable one.

It was not, perhaps, a shining moment in my life as a mother. I gave her hard truths when what she probably needed was compassion, gentleness, and encouragement. I gave her situation-specific advice when what she really needs is a way to reframe the way she thinks about perfection — not as something desirable, certainly not as something necessary, but as something to be avoided. She needs to learn why mistakes are worth making, why the struggle is worth having, and why all her weaknesses aren’t failures but opportunities to learn, to grow, and to lean on God.

So tonight, I’ll be taping this to her bathroom mirror. Hopefully someone else’s words will reach her in a way mine failed to, because although life will eventually teach her that she’ll never be perfect, I’d like her to first know why she shouldn’t try to be.

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